The venn diagram of people who read this website and who do yoga probably features precious little overlap. The goal of this article is to expand that overlap.
It’s true, yoga isn’t great for building muscle. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth your time. Yoga has loads of benefits that don’t come from most other exercises, including toning muscle, developing balance and flexibility, and illuminating the light within.
Maybe it won’t illuminate the light within, but you never know if you don’t try.
What is Yoga?
These days, yoga is mainstream to the point that most people are vaguely aware of it but few people who don’t practice it actually know what it is.
Yoga is an ancient practice that developed on the Indian subcontinent as a meditative aid. The postures have different meanings and the focus on breath helps practitioners to develop the mind-body connection.
We’ll get back to breath later on, but we’re pretty much done talking about yoga as a philosophy. We’re here to focus on yoga and exercise.
A Physical Practice
As a physical practice, yoga involves holding poses and moving from one to another. Some of the poses are “restorative” poses that are good for stretching out the body in a gentle and relaxing way.
Other poses work on developing your balance and flexibility. Some of them involve supporting your body weight resulting in a pretty decent muscle building exercise.
Yoga as Exercise
Yoga isn’t a muscle building exercise in the same way as lifting weights or doing body resistance workouts. However, it has its own benefits.
There are lots of ways to tone muscle. However, picking a pose that challenges you and holding it for an extended period involves a specific kind of muscle action called “isometric muscle action.”
If you’ve done much research – or checked out that link – you know that isometric muscle action is pretty limited. Exercises like lifting weights often work at least two muscles at a time, while isometric workouts only target one.
The good news about yoga, in practice, is that it incorporates a number of different poses, making the isometric workout more practical than in other exercises.
Developing Flexibility and Stretching Sore Muscles
Yoga is an easy practice to get into because some poses are more challenging than others. Some of the more basic poses – particularly the “restorative poses” that we mentioned above – are great for stretching.
This article isn’t about replacing other workouts with yoga, so try incorporating yoga before your regular exercise to increase your range of motion, or after your regular exercise as a way to stretch out sore muscles.
A recurring theme throughout this article is that some yoga poses are more challenging than others. Some of the more advanced yoga poses are particularly useful for developing balance.
Balance may not be what you aim for in most of your exercises, but developing better balance can help your form when you go to do challenging lifts.
Yoga encourages you to focus on your breathing. The exhale will often be when you transition from one pose to another, and you’re often encouraged to inhale as a way of “finding length” in stretches.
If you’ve spent much time in the mental health space, you probably know that monitoring breathing helps people manage challenging emotions like anxiety. As a result, this aspect is one of the key elements that bridges the physical and philosophical components of yoga that we mentioned above.
However, managing your breath isn’t just good for your mind, it’s good for your body too. Learning how to monitor your breath can help to ensure that it doesn’t get away from you when you’re on a run, huffing it through a challenging lift, or trying to power through those last few reps.
Illuminating the Inner Light
This idea has been something of a joke throughout this article, but that doesn’t mean we can’t take a couple of sentences to actually consider it.
It’s true – there’s quite a bit of feel-good, warm and fuzzy pie-in-the-sky hippy-dippy nonsense in the yoga space. You’re likely to encounter at least a bit of that if you decide to explore incorporating yoga into your exercise regimen.
If you’re just here for the physical benefits to your exercise, you should be able to power through the nonsense and get those physical benefits. However, if that kind of thing actually makes you feel better, if it actually helps you manage stress and get through your day, there’s no shame in it.
We promise not to tell your gym buddies.
If you’re here to build muscle or burn fat, you may not have given much thought to yoga. While it’s true that yoga won’t melt away the inches or bulk up your body, it has a number of other benefits that can help you get the most out of your other exercises.
So, how do you get started?
Journals and Publications
We linked to the Yoga Journal above. Publications like that are a great place to start, particularly if you’re a text based person. Publications like these make some videos, but they mainly produce images with text to guide you through the motions.
An interesting note: because of the age of yoga as an exercise, images with text explanations are how the original yoga practitioners would have learned and shared their practices.
YouTube has a wealth of guided sessions. Just type in “Yoga for Beginners,” “Yoga for weightloss,” “Yoga for (whatever you want).” You’ll find loads of content from lots of different sources giving you information that you can use right at home.
Self-guided yoga is okay. However, proper form is really important so if you’re serious about getting into yoga, you really should consider taking a class in person.
Major population centers will have dedicated yoga studios. Smaller cities may have yoga classes offered through local gyms or community groups. If you live in a college town, see if the university’s fitness center offers yoga classes to the public.
Out of ideas? Just punch “Yoga class” into your favorite search engine. You’ll probably find some opportunities near you. Most classes – no matter who is offering them, will have a trial period so that you can go to a class or two without paying membership or use fees to see if it is right for you.
Yoga isn’t for everyone. But, it might be for you. Hopefully, this article has inspired you to try something new.